On a Sunday, and often on Saturdays too, you can find Carlos Valentin III around the big table at the front of Birdhouse Yarn working on one project or another…usually something with lace.
Until recently Carlo’s time was dedicated to a very special project, a huge lace shawl that they had designed, knit on size 0 needles. The immensity of the project and the fine detail of the shawl intrigued many of us, and we’re grateful to Carlos for sharing their process.
How long have you been knitting for?
I learned how to crochet when I was six or seven from a kid in my class who had been taught by his grandmother. When my grandmother found out she expanded on that understanding and taught me how to do doilies etc. When I was ten I experimented with a pencil and crochet hook, and ended up producing a knit fabric. My grandmother caught me messing around with the hook and pencil and gave me a pair of knitting needles, but until six years ago crochet was my big thing.
When did the passion for lace begin?
Six years ago! I was at Barnes and Noble when I saw The Magic of Shetland Lace Knitting by Elizabeth Lovick. The cover had simple motifs on and I thought ‘I can do this!’
Tell us about this shawl
The shawl is called Sirena – which is the Spanish word for mermaid. The central motifs have a fish scale like appearance on the chart. I created this for my sister Micheleen, I’ve knitted and crocheted for her children, but this is for her.
I took several months to swatch, experimenting to settle on the design. The shape is similar to a Shetland hap, and it echoes much of the style of Shetland lace, but this particular fish scale motif element was something that I wanted to create. It was important to have an element in the design that was original.
Within the shawl there are the scales, but the inner border is web like – like fish netting, keeping with water theme. The outer border is based off an old Shetland motif called spider’s web. You can see the spiders in a web if you look closely, but it also reminds me of those shoreline bugs in ponds. And then there are the elements that have happened naturally as one element goes up against the other.
The peaked lace on the edge is based on the center motif. Elizabeth Lovick encourages you to bring something from the center out to the edge, just like in writing a story or a poem, you often circle back around to the initial idea in the beginning.
I’m completely captivated by tales of mermaids. The Little Mermaid movie came out when I was about five or six, that started an interest in mermaid tales that persists, and grew with the Grimm’s fairytale “The Nixie of The Millpond”, the Celtic merrows and so on.
Mohair is my first fiber love, but alpaca is a little less intense, and the drape is lovely.
Sirena was made out of Cascade Alpaca Lace, colorway Pacific. I bought the first four skeins at Yada Yada in Silver City, but ran out so Holly ordered me a whole bag of this colorway. I thought I’d only use a couple of skeins, but I ended up using all but two. The shawl is over 3000 yards.
Has this experience inspired you to do more design?
Yes, but I think I’m going to use tried and true motifs arranged in new ways.
My oldest niece is going to get a shawl in similar dimensions for her high school graduation. Peaked lace and Shetland motifs I think.
When you’re knitting someone else’s design it can feel like reading a book, it’s passive and it’s really relaxing. When I’m designing it’s like I’m writing a poem or a short story. And when I start knitting the design it’s like I’m pulling weeds, which can be very satisfying.
Is there a designer that inspires you?
Eunny Jang of Interweave (I love Interweave Knits Magazine) had a blog that I draw a lot from. She is no longer updating it, and hasn’t in a decade, but she still maintains it.
While I don’t do social media, I do buy Interweave Knits and watch the Fruity Knitting podcast. Andrea is very technical. Very Pink Knits is also a great resource.
Do you think that lace is going to make a come back?
I just don’t care about trends. I love lace in the way I love poetry.
What do you have on the needles right now?
A lace stole for my friend in Phoenix and socks for my husband. I promised him that I’d make them as soon as the shawl was complete.
What advice for fellow knitters do you have? Perhaps about your blocking technique because it is on fire!
My top secret blocking tip– you cannot have a deadline! Remember the yarn is in control and what type of yarn you’re working with makes a difference. Like dough with too much leaven, alpaca and mohair just keep going.
How Carlos blocks:
Soak in a wool wash. For this shawl I soaked it in cool wool wash for at least 30 minutes.
Use a towel to roll the piece in, never wring.
Spread over a piece of gingham that has been pinned on a clean sheet.
Use a ruler and measure out the lace.measure the spaces between the peaks of the lace, and make sure they match as closely as possible, around the entirety of the piece.
Carlos grew up in Pearce, Arizona, and moved to Tucson to attend high school. Carlos and husband Adam live with their cat Hera, six budgerigars, four zebra finches and three chickens. While Carlos knits and crochets, Adam gardens. Carlos went to the University of Arizona where they received a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Women’s Studies.